Even thinking about divorce can feel like going down a river without a paddle, but imagine how it feels for our children. Of course your divorce will affect your child(ren), but how can you as a parent best to protect your child(ren) from the pain of a divorce? How can you avoid putting them in the middle of your divorce? The answer may be either mediation or collaborative divorce process. Many people have heard of mediation, but like a neighbor of mine, who shall remain nameless, you may think of meditation when I say mediation. No, we are not all sitting around a table saying “Ohm” with our eyes closed seeking to find inner peace. When I talk about mediation, I am talking about using a neutral mediator to run the process and help you and your soon-to-be-ex figure out what is important to you and your family so that you can move forward. While collaborative divorce is growing as a field, there are still very few people who have heard about it or know what it is. Both of these processes fall into the “alternative dispute resolution” or “ADR” category; which means that you choose to resolve your matter outside of court.
Frankly, I do not know many people who like going to court. While it can be entertaining to watch others stand there before the judge and hear their stories, you need to remember, while you’re standing there, others are listening to and watching you. Who wants to sit around at a courthouse for hours on end to wait and let someone else decide their dispute? Who wants the entire courtroom to know the intimate details of their lives? The courtroom is a public space, which means that anyone can be there. It doesn’t have to be that way; if you are able to settle your differences before you go to court, then your life remains more private. It’s also important to remember that your lawyer gets paid to sit there in court too while waiting for your case to be called by the clerk; and the more you go to court, the more you pay your lawyer to be there with you. I’m not saying professionals don’t deserve to get paid to be at court preparing, representing, and reassuring you; for many attorneys this is what they really enjoy, standing before the court, fighting to their last breath, but I believe that there are more effective uses of all of our time.
In mediation and collaborative law, you work to find solutions that will work for your family, as a whole. You may not “win” in the traditional sense or “have your day in court” so you can be “proven right” (or “wrong”). Frankly, the judge doesn’t know or necessarily care about you or your family individually, sure they might, but their job is to make decisions and they have hundreds of cases on their docket that they need to make decisions on. Do you really think that the judge is the person who should be making the decisions that will affect how your family supports itself or operates (think visitation schedule) or should you and your soon to be ex-spouse be making those decisions? Outside people don’t know what your children and family need to function; its more likely than not that you and your soon-to-be-ex know better what will work for your family and children.
Of course, mediation and collaborative law are not for everyone, you have to be willing to listen to the other person. You may be thinking” I can’t stand hearing his/her voice” or “I can’t be in the same room as him/her”. You need to examine yourself and decide what’s important to you. These processes allow you the time and space, with the assistance of the professionals taking part in the process, to figure out what is really important to you and how you can satisfy those goals. You may not always get what you want, but we, as a group, help you to figure out what you need to move forward with your new life.
In order to get legally divorced, you eventually will have to go to court to get any agreement reached approved, but that appearance with an agreement is quite different than that of a litigated divorce. Divorce is the end of your marriage, but if you have children, it is not the end of your contact with your ex. It is important to remember that whether you like it or not, you your ex is still your child’s other parent and it is very likely that you will see them at your child’s events (games, graduations, weddings, etc.) Therefore, you and your soon-to-be ex still need to parent your children, as a team, to give them the best chance of growing up as happy, healthy individuals.
While it is often not easy, either mediation or a collaborative process can give you the skills to develop an effective co-parenting relationship. Going through these processes can also teach you how to resolve issues that may come up in the future, without litigation. You can and will learn a lot about yourself if you are willing to put in the effort. If you are thinking about a divorce, I urge you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want to look back with regret when I think about how I behaved during our divorce?
- Don’t I want to look back and say we did the best we could for the good of our family and our futures?
- Do I want to be a positive role model for my child(ren) and show them that differences can be resolved in a more civilized way and that I can work through challenges with others to get to a better place?
If your answers to the last 2 are yes, then I urge you to look at all your process options before jumping into litigation. Remember, your divorce can be different!